Reviews of German edition of Beyond Chutzpah

May 18, 2006

In News

Editor’s note:

* Frankfurter Rundschau review, 05.10.2006
* Vorwärts review, 05.12.2006
* more reviews of German edition here

Frankfurter Rundschau Review of Beyond Chutzpah

Rudolf Walther, “Zu viel Platz für den Gegner: Norman G. Finkelstein verheddert sich beim Versuch, ‘Antisemitismus als politische Waffe’ zu entlarven,” Frankfurter Rundschau, 10 May 2006 (

Rudolf Walther, “A forum for the foe: Norman G. Finkelstein seeks to expose the misuse of anti-Semitism as a political weapon — and gets bogged down in details,” Frankfurter Rundschau, 10 May 2006

When almost six years ago Norman G. Finkelstein’s book, The Holocaust Industry, was published in the United States, a heated debate broke out in Germany even before the translation was available. The title in itself was a provocation. Finkelstein sought to prove that the excesses of Holocaust commemoration in the United States were by no means the manifestations of some strange, inexplicable phenomenon, but rather the result of very deliberate policies. He argued that the motor of all the bustling activity regarding the Holocaust was neither commemoration of the victims nor commitment to Israel, but political gain for American-Jewish organizations. Thus, although Finkelstein’s thesis did contain a “kernel of truth” (Julius Schoeps), he stretched his argument too far and approached the realm of crude conspiracy theories. Had he given Peter Novick’s subtle study, The Holocaust in American Life (1999), serious attention, Finkelstein could have avoided this blunder.

Major issues — like, for instance, the allegation that only 15 percent of the restitution monies had been distributed to the survivors while the remaining funds either went into the Claims Conference’s own coffers or to Israel — did not receive the attention they deserved. Renowned German historians had called for a judicial investigation at the time, but these issues nonetheless remain unresolved to this day. Hopes that Finkelstein’s book would help “open a window” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) were frustrated.

Finkelstein’s new book, too, deals with an explosive issue: “Anti-Semitism as a Political Weapon.”* In the first part of the book, Finkelstein examines the periodic discovery, or fabrication, of a “new anti-Semitism.” From its first use in the title of a 1974 book by Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein right up to the fierce attacks on the film, The Passion of the Christ, ever newer manifestations of the “new anti-Semitism” have been materializing at regular intervals.

This does occasionally lead to grotesque exaggerations. American journalist Ron Rosenbaum spoke about the danger of a “second Holocaust” in the context of Palestinian suicide bombings, while Philip Greenspun, a respected natural scientist [sic], maintained on the Internet that Europe initially created Israel “as a concentration camp for Jews” and that history clearly shows that “most concentration camps for Jews have eventually turned into death camps.”

According to Finkelstein, the so-called new anti-Semitism which, for 30 years, has been cropping up in numerous debates, consists of three components, one of which is real while the other two are chimerical. Component number one: exaggeration and fabrication. When, for instance, one Jewish student was attacked by a Palestinian on campus, the media turned the incident into a whole wave of “new anti-Semitism.” In 2004, it was alleged that New York’s Columbia University “silenced” “pro-Israel voices” among the students. Columbia’s president immediately appointed a committee which carefully investigated the complaints. However, it “found no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic.” Yet the suspicions may well rest on Columbia for some time to come.

Component number two of the “new anti-Semitism” is more important. More and more often, criticism of Israeli policies, especially with regard to the occupied territories, is alleged to constitute, or at least foment, a “new anti-Semitism” — a mindless generalization. When, Jewish billionaire George Soros, for example, simply stated that anti-Semitic acts in Europe had something to do with Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza, he was immediately accused of anti-Semitism.

Component number three is of a lasting kind: the “spillover from criticism of Israel to Jews generally.” As Finkelstein shows, however, there is nothing new about that. This is a manifestation of the age-old anti-Semitism, exposure of which is a minimum requirement for every rational human being.

In the second part of the book, which is larger than the first, Finkelstein deals almost exclusively with Alan M. Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard, modeled his book on legal proceedings, its 32 chapters being divided into the sections “The Accusation;” “The Accusers;” “The Reality;” and “The Proof.” Thus the various roles of opinion-maker, prosecutor, defense lawyer, and judge are all played by the same person, namely by the author himself — a peculiar concept for a legal scholar.

Finkelstein seeks to demolish the shoddy piece of work that this ideological muscleman** has cobbled together; and he does so almost sentence by sentence, thus proving, at great length, that Dershowitz’s “reality” tends to consist of propagandistic apologetics and baseless claims. To be sure, Israel does violate human rights and this cannot be justified by the fact that Arab states too violate human rights. But did Finkelstein really have to spend so many pages elaborating on that? Was it worth the trouble? When someone uses a transparent shyster’s trick to doctor casualty figures, how many pages and how much energy should be devoted to exposing it?

To get bogged down in the details of such nonsense is to depart from the appropriate intellectual level. Dismissing those ramblings as totally unacceptable would have been quite enough. You don’t have to prove that a wheel is actually not an equilateral rectangle. Of course, Dershowitz’s book calls for a rejoinder. But instead of just writing a short, devastating critique, Finkelstein engaged in a detailed polemic.*** In order to be able to refute Dershowitz at such great length, Finkelstein first of all had to allow his foe to make his case at equally great length, so, invariably, Finkelstein gave over rather large portions of his own book to Dershowitz’s allegations, “reality,” and arguments. The meticulousness with which Finkelstein went about his task deserves respect. But he paid dearly for it — with a book which, though brimming with facts, is boring and too long. Much would have been gained from a cut in size.

Norman G. Finkelstein, Antisemitismus als politische Waffe: Israel, Amerika und der Mißbrauch der Geschichte. Translated by Maren Hackmann. Piper Verlag, Munich, 2006, 388 pp., EUR 19.90.

(Translation: Maren Hackmann)

Translator’s notes:
* German title of Beyond Chutzpah.
** The reviewer calls Dershowitz a “Gesinnungsathlet,” which may or may not translate as “ideological muscleman.”
*** The reviewer calls Finkelstein’s book a “philologisch unterfütterte Detailpolemik” — whatever that means.

Vorwärts Review of Beyond Chutzpah

Rolf Helfert, “Das Trugbild des Antisemitismus,” Vorwärts (online edition), 12 May 2006 (

Rolf Helfert, “The Specter of Anti-Semitism,” Vorwärts (online edition), 12 May 2006

Not for the first time, Norman Finkelstein provokes. His theses regarding the “Holocaust industry” have already triggered off numerous debates. Finkelstein’s new book, too, is a valuable contribution to the political discourse.

Critics of Israel are often regarded as “new anti-Semites,” Finkelstein maintains. This stigmatization, he says, deflects from Israel’s human rights violations and its flouting of international law: Israel seeks to draw a veil over the injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians. Some people accuse even those who protested the war on Iraq of anti-Semitism, he writes.

Finkelstein concludes that for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic Western media play down the true scale of the Israeli repression in the occupied territories. For example, Israel’s systematic house demolitions have rendered many Palestinians homeless; Arab “terrorists” are being subjected to torture. The wall Israel is building in the West Bank with the view to turning the Jewish settlements there into permanent facts on the ground, is likewise in contravention of international law.

In 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were “ethnically cleansed.” For the Zionists, there was no such thing as an Arab culture, Finkelstein says. In his view the Israel-Palestine conflict could in fact be resolved expeditiously: Israel must withdraw from all the [Palestinian] territories occupied in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza; this would pave the way for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Israel should accept the international consensus and stop “displacing and dispossessing” the Palestinians, says Finkelstein. In particular, he concerns himself with the American-Jewish “lobby’s” ideologues who automatically tar every critic of Israeli policy with the “new anti-Semitism” slur. For them, Israel’s interests are sacrosanct.

The “old” anti-Semitism targeted Jews on religious or racist grounds, just because they were Jews, Finkelstein explains. Those warning of a “new” anti-Semitism, however, conflate every statement critical of Israeli policy with hatred of Jews. Invocation of the Nazi genocide is supposed to give Israel a blank check. Some commentators are already demanding that “anti-Semitic” writers be prosecuted.

Finkelstein’s parents were survivors of the Nazi holocaust; he is well aware of the situation Germans find themselves in [when it comes to criticizing Israel]. However, in his view, Germans, too, have an obligation to deplore the wrongs committed by Israel. “Atonement for past crimes can never result in toleration of present crimes,” he insists.

Real anti-Semites will not be happy with Finkelstein’s book. He notes that well-known politicians from the right end of the political spectrum, like Berlusconi and Le Pen, unconditionally support Israel. Finkelstein’s concern is to fight the real anti-Semitism. He warns that, while the motives of the “philo-Semites” may be good, they nonetheless enable Israel to continue on its “murderous path,” which is a boon to the real Jew haters.

Finkelstein vehemently criticizes the writings of the American-Jewish “lobby” which includes many university professors. One entire chapter [sic] of Finkelstein’s book is given over to a discussion of the study The Case for Israel by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.

According to Finkelstein, Berlin’s Center for Research on Anti-Semitism is wrong to claim that hatred of Jews is running rampant in Europe. He says there is no evidence for that.

Again, we are indebted to Finkelstein for providing important information and sharp-witted analyses.

Norman G. Finkelstein, Antisemitismus als politische Waffe: Israel, Amerika und der Mißbrauch der Geschichte. Piper Verlag, Munich 2006, 388 pp., EUR 19.90.

(Translation: Maren Hackmann)